The Puffin (ix)

Something was enormous moving below. I could feel the vibrations in the water. Ropes of flesh began floating upwards. With every flash of lightning, red and bleeding they reached closer to us. Out of the darkness, where the limbs came from, a glowing red disc sizzled as it had just be taken out of a forge. But it floated closer and closer and the water bubbled and then I realised it was a giant eye gazing with fury. When the lighting struck again I saw it in full view, in the centre of the growing wave; I would have thought it a rotting corpse if not for the single eye that stared into mine. Its gaunt arms pulled everything it grabbed into its beak that gnashed with a mouth adorned with pin-like teeth. Every aspect of this terrible thing was stretched and elongated, as it had been flattened under the pressure of the sea.

Flat as a page – if it turned to the side it would have disappeared. But it was looking straight at me and snapped its beak at just as the puffin did when I pulled it from its cage. It tendrils broke through the surface of the water to either side of me, they swung in the air as if held by a blind swordsman. It mouth came closer and steam began to boil as the sulphurous bubbles of its breath exploded around. Staring downs the beast’s gullet I pondered my certainty that the puffin is indeed completely a bird.

My thoughts were interrupted by lightning that struck again, on the very nose of the beast. Again and again, it struck the beast. I nearly passed out from the putrid gas that rose, the only thing that has come close to that smell is the bursting of a bloated sea-corpse. Coincidentally a sea-corpse is what I believed I was about to become, the towering wave we had been ascending was tipping over. The wave crashed and I shut my eyes. Darkness, only darkness remained.
I’ve read much about the world, in libraries both decrepit and magnificent, since that terrible night and can only piece together one theory. It must have been Zeus striking down a vengeful Titan back into the depths, and it was merely a coincidence that I sat in the midst of their war. I dreamed that I was Zeus in the clouds looking down and striking those who displeased me. Then it occurred to me that this wasn’t a dream, it was death, and the afterlife is mostly comprised of wreaking revenge on all who wronged us, I was a karmic angel with a score to settle. But my wings burnt up in hatred I spat over the world and I was emblazed all over and I fell like Icarus, my limbs curled up involuntarily like a dying insect.

I fell back down to Earth with a freezing shock and woke up on the iceberg. Or what has left of the iceberg anyway, I was lying half way in the sea, my right hand still death gripped upon the knife embedded in the ice and my left clutched the limp puffin. I would have climbed out of the water had I not felt like half a man, my ribs broken and I could barely flex my fingers. I shook the puffin with my weak hands and it squinted to look at me annoyed that I had woken it from its dream. Maybe it too had been dreaming of wreaking havoc on its puffin enemies, or the shark that had given it that scar above its eye. Or maybe it had been dreaming of punishing me. I questioned why I had kept it alive all this time, just to suffer. I looked around for answers but only a white fog surrounded us.
The iceberg was breaking away before my eyes, we must have been blown a great distance south in the storm. Once again my mind turned to killing the puffin, out of mercy this time, not for food. I knew its pain well. The adventures in children’s books never describe the agony the heroes must go. The prince battles the dragon but the story never speaks of his burns that take months to heals and the nights he wakes up screaming from nightmares.

Another point was the puffin’s body might sustain me for a couple more days, I could drink its blood as well.

I could go on and list every reason it was logical to kill that bird, but despite every reason and every obligation – I couldn’t take that birds life, it wasn’t mine to take. I threw the knife into the ocean and decided that Fortuna would be our murderer, I’d not dirty my hands. And just as that knife hit the water’s surface, a rope landed on my shoulder.
I gripped it and it went taunt, its end lay hidden in the mist.

The rope felt ordinary but I still shouted, “Are you heaven sent?”

“Are you daft?” A voice shouted back, the mist cleared and there stood, not a rope thrown by St Peter, but a ship. Its exterior black and charred though it looked as strong as Samson. The sailors beckoned to me and I tied the rope around my waist and I hugged the puffin to my chest. The pulled me up in silence when they saw my condition, some have said I looked like a corpse and they feared they had pulled a ghost up onto their ship.

That was the circumstance of how I first planted my feet on the deck of The Great Gnasher, which was then captained by the not so great Captain Cohen. My feet didn’t stand planted for long however, I passed out as soon as I felt something solid under my feet but was caught by a boy with blonde hair about my own age. The two dozen souls who kept the ship running also found time to nurse me back to health, two dozen souls that Gnasher had also rescued, who all had stories just as crazed and desperate as mine. The story of the blonde haired boy who caught me is especially strange and just as triumphant, it is the story of William Kidd.

That story is for another time though, I am yawning between words and my eyes feel dewy, salivating with a hunger for some sweet dreams. Time for bed, and if you feel like sleeping too I’ll meet you in the land of nod. Before you close your eyes to bliss, please heed this advice; make sure you are not sleeping on an iceberg!


 

<- Part 9 of 9

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